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I received the following email from a user of one of our websites:

This morning I tried to log into example.com and I was blocked by Websense at work because it is considered a "social networking" site or something. I assume the websense filter is maintained by a central location, so I'm hoping that by letting you guys know you can get it unblocked.

per Wikipedia, Websense is web filtering or Internet content-control software.

This means one (or more) of our sites is being miscategorized by Websense as "social networking" and thus disallowed for access at any workplace that uses Websense to control what websites their users can and cannot access during work hours.

(I know, they are monsters!)

  1. How do we dispute this Websense classification error, as our websites should generally be considered "information technology" and never "social networking"?

  2. How do we know what category Websense has put our sites in, so we can pro-actively make sure they're not wrong?

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1  
I was on a network that was using Websense 4 months ago and none of the SOFU sites were blocked back then, so this must be a fairly recent thing. –  Mark Henderson Oct 13 '10 at 22:10
    
I work for Websense. There are ways to directly query the Websense database but it's not something that is generally publicly accessible (unless you have an account and so on). I will forward this thread to some of my peeps at Websense and I'll report back shortly. Thanks Carl –  Carl Oct 13 '10 at 22:49
    
I work for Websense. There are ways to directly query the Websense database but it's not something that is generally publicly accessible (unless you have an account and so on). I will forward this thread to some of my peeps at Websense and I'll report back shortly. Thanks Carl –  Carl Oct 13 '10 at 22:49
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Jeff, it took much longer than I had originally hoped for, but I got the confirmation that all your sites are now categorized as "Information Technology". Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you. –  Carl Oct 22 '10 at 16:26
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@carl awesome -- thank you! –  Jeff Atwood Oct 22 '10 at 18:18

5 Answers 5

I also had my website blocked by Websense, with the reason that is was categorized as "gambling". It's not a gambling site, but it does have social media widgets such as Facebook comments, share buttons, etc... and is built on WordPress.

I signed up for Websense to use the URL lookup tool but also got the: Sorry, you are unauthorized to access this page message.

After sending Websense an email as to why this was, I got a standard reply which included another tool:

http://csi.websense.com

This tells you which category your website is in and if any threat is detected.

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Websense guidelines are here: http://www.websense.com/content/support/library/shared/sec_labs/social_web13/social_web.pdf

Read the above. If you have a wordpress.com account you will likely be blocked.

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Jeff, I wonder whether having a chat system in a subdomain might not tip the balance as far as 'social networking' is concerned?

Where I am, Hotmail/Skype/MSN/Google Talk/etc. are all blocked. chat so only gets through currently (I imagine) because no-one's noticed.

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I work for Websense.

There are ways to directly query the Websense database but it's not something that is generally publicly accessible (unless you have an account and so on).

I will forward this thread to some of my peeps at Websense and I'll report back shortly.

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Thanks for chiming in, Carl –  John Conde Oct 13 '10 at 23:00
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Carl we need to check all the major URLs for every domain listed in stackexchange.com/sites –  Jeff Atwood Oct 13 '10 at 23:55
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There really ought to be some kind of category dispute form. If you're worried about being overwhelmed by frivolous/duplicate complaints, you could do a simple site ownership verification test like Google Hosted does (ask the user to upload a temporary page to the domain). –  Lèse majesté Oct 14 '10 at 0:47
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Lese, if you have an account with websense (as the company I works for do) you can submit a URL to get recategorised. I would that we have only been successful where the categorisation has been blatently wrong - for example a scottish tourism site was categorised as pornography. Anything marginally debatable we have pointed out has never been acted upon. –  MrG Oct 14 '10 at 7:23
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@MrG: Interesting info if true. It seems morally questionable to require a paid account to dispute a miscategorized site. I'll give Websense the benefit of the doubt, but it could be interpreted as blackmail (i.e. "give us money or your site will be banned on thousands of computers/networks."). I'm sure that's not what Websense is trying to do, but it'd still be better to do away with that requirement. Plus, getting more reports of miscategorized sites will give them a chance to better improve their automatic filtering system. –  Lèse majesté Oct 14 '10 at 10:22
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Digging around on their website I found Websense Suggest a URL, which appears to require an account. However, even when you do create a new account; there's nowhere to submit a categorization dispute that I could see!

Per How do I find out how a site is categorized? we should be able to use the Site Lookup and URL Category tools but I think these are for paying websense customers only. I am able to get into "my WebSense" with a new account, but when I try to click the Site Lookup Tool I get a big honking

Sorry, you are unauthorized to access this page.

I also found this on their forums:

I could not replicate this [miscategorized site issue]. However, if you run into this in the future you can always email suggest@websense.com for all categorization-related inquiries and Site Lookup Tool feedback. That will go right to our database operations team.

There's also a Denied access to a web page? which states at the bottom.

What can you do if you feel a Web site has been incorrectly categorized?

If you feel a Web site has been incorrectly categorized, you can also suggest that Websense database researchers investigate a Web site classification by e-mailing suggest@websense.com.

And similarly Report miscategorized web sites or suggest new URLs? says:

Problem Description

I identified a miscategorized web site. How do I submit the URL for review?

Resolution

To post a new URL for review or suggest a category change, send an e-mail to suggest@websense.com.

The Database operations team reviews URLs and respond to inquiries.

Bottom line: email suggest@websense.com.

It is a shame there's no way (that I can find) for us to test our websense categorization state from the outside.

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Any chance you could use landing-page testing via litmus? I believe they check pages through most web-filtering appliances, although they seem to have migrated their core service away from website testing. See litmus.com/email-previews –  meklarian Oct 13 '10 at 22:56
    
I believe you can create a MyWebSense Account without being a paying customer of WebSense, so you can then use the Site Lookup tool. You do have to give them quite a lot of personal details, though. –  Richard Gadsden Oct 31 '12 at 13:56

protected by John Conde Feb 5 at 15:44

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